Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Last Christmas I was trying to think of a creative gift idea for our family Yankee Swap that wouldn't be just another thing under the Christmas tree. I've long championed the idea of charitable donations in lieu of a gift. When my children were small I used to donate money to Globe Santa for needy area children (I was once a Globe Santa child) on behalf of their schoolteachers. I thought this was a better idea than another "You are the best teacher" coffee mug. My daughters didn't always agree since they wanted to give a "real" gift, so maybe I deprived them in some way, but I don't think so. In recent years I have seen catalogs for Heifer Project where you can give a farm animal to a poor family and Habitat for Humanity where a donation of money is put toward building supplies. I thought these were great ideas, however, I've been a little put off by the overt religious tone of those organizations.

Along comes the Internet and I discover Novica and eZiba. These organizations promote artisans all over the world and give them a place to sell their goods. I liked that I can read about the particular artist I am buying products from and thought I had found a creative gift idea. I could give a beautiful handcrafted gift and know the person who produced it has the opportunity to make a living wage. And then, last fall, I stumbled quite by accident on Alternative Gifts International.

Alternative Gifts also has the religious component, but it is interfaith and has less of an overt feel to it. Of course, that is an entirely subjective comment, but I am as un-religious as they come and I am comfortable with this organization. Their mission is to "send authentic, life-giving gifts to a needy world - gifts that build a partnership with oppressed people in crisis and that protect and preserve the earth's endangered environment - to nourish and sustain a more equitable and peaceful global community." They do this by taking your donation and making 90% of if available to organizations that provide low cost business loans to women in Gaza or provide AIDS education to people in Rwanda and Mozambique or give a servant child a chance to go to school in Haiti (the 10% that Alternative Gifts does not pass on is used for administrative costs). These are only a few of the options you might chose as gifts. They have "33 sponsored national and international relief and development projects." The recipient of the gift will receive a card with the details and information about the organization.

I purchased two Alternative Gifts last winter and put the cards in envelopes I decorated with ribbons and glitter. My sister got it in the Yankee Swap and didn't want to trade if for anything else, and was quite protective that no one else got it from her. It may not be something you can wrap in a big box and put under the tree, but it sure is a gift that will not gather dust or find its way into the next year's Yankee Swap.

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